May 1st, National Holiday and a Tradition
Since ancient times, many cultures have celebrated the coming of spring in various ways. On contemporary calendars, these celebrations have been placed on or near May 1st.
In many countries, May 1st is a national holiday marking International Workers’ Day. The use of the date as Labour Day and to celebrate workers goes back to the late 19th century.
The Czech Angle
May 1st is a national holiday in the Czech Republic and the Czechs have their own ways of marking it.
During the period of Socialism, people in the former Czechoslovakia were forced to participate in massive May Day parades. However, a tradition that goes back to the late 19th century has been kept alive by Czechs from before the Socialist era up to the present: kissing your sweetheart under a blooming tree.
Czechs generally see May 1st as a day of love. In the last week or so of April, trees typically start flowering and legend says that girls who are not kissed under a blooming tree on the day will wither and die within the year.
By tradition, cherry trees are the prefered trees to kiss under. However, other trees in bloom can be substituted if cherry trees aren’t available. For people picky about their kissing trees, birch or apple are seen as the next best thing to cherry. Some people aren’t so particular though and will kiss under any convenient blooming tree.
Along with kissing, many people might also recite the poem “Máj” by Czech romantic poet, Karel Hynek Mácha (1810 – 1836). The poem is a Czech literary classic.
Not all Czechs engage in the kissing tradition. For many, it’s just a nice day off from work.